CORRESPONDENCE WITH LORD
SIR ARTHUR GORDON, in his recent Life of his father, Lord
Aberdeen, has revived against Dr Chalmers an accusation which was made by his
father in the House of Lords in the month of May 1840. In the course of the
debate on his Church of Scotland Bill, Lord Aberdeen accused the Non-Intrusion
Committee of having acted in an "unscrupulous"manner: Sir Arthur Gordon now
charges Dr Chalmers with having "temporised."
The accusation of having acted towards Lord Aberdeen in an unscrupulous way was warmly resented by the Non-Intrusion Committee. A letter was addressed by them to Lord Aberdeen repudiating the charge, and was signed by the members of the Committee. This letter was published at the time, and forms Appendix No. 1. So far as is known, Lord Aberdeen did not reply to this letter. As the best way of meeting the charge now made by Sir Arthur Gordon against Dr Chalmers, the surviving daughter of Dr Chalmers has resolved to publish the correspondence between Lord Aberdeen and her father in the years 1839 and 1840. This correspondence, so far as it passed in the year 1840, was in that year published in pamphlet form by Lord Aberdeen himself. The correspondence now printed is, therefore, a republication, except as regards the four letters dated in the year 1839 and the letters dated 2nd January and 11th April 1840. The original letters from Lord Aberdeen to Dr Chalmers are in the possession of his daughter, and also copies of the replies of Dr Chalmers. These copies are in Dr Chalmers' own cypher shorthand. A specimen of this cypher may be found in Lord Cockburn's Journal, vol. i. p. 46. Several of the letters from Lord Aberdeen were read in the General Assembly of 1840,and the correspondence is referred to in Dr Hanna's Life of Dr Chalmers. At the end of the correspondence will be found a letter from Dr Chalmers to the Dean of Faculty, who afterwards became Lord Justice-Clerk Hope. This letter shows that Dr Chalmers did not fear the publication of his letters to Lord Aberdeen. As Appendix No. 2, there has been printed a copy, found among Dr Chalmers' papers, of Lord Aberdeen's Bill of 1840, with proposed alterations thereon in the handwriting of Dr Chalmers.
The following passage from Lord Cockburn's Journal gives his judgment upon the Bill : - "The Church is nearly where it was. Sometime ago Lord Aberdeen introduced a Bill into the House of Lords, which was to be the balm of Gilead for all our ecclesiastical sores.". "If the Bill was intended to mislead, it was well drawn, for no two, even of its friends, agreed in what it meant on one vital point. But this point was at last fixed, both by his Lordship's self-revised speech, and by his letters. From these it appeared that the true reading was, that though all objections might be stated, no rejection could take place unless the Presbytery approved of them, and that unacceptableness was in itself, or unless founded on what the Presbytery thought not a prejudice, no objection; that the Presbytery should always record which objection they sustained or repelled; and that the right claimed by the civil tribunals, as in the Auchterarder case, to review the opinion of the Church on the validity of the reason, should be recognised.
This was worse than a mockery, for it did not merely preserve, but it legalised all the grievances complained of, and would have left Principal Robertson or George Hill better means than ever of repeating all that they did. It quashed the protest against the encroachments of unchecked patronage, which the old minority of the Church had been making for above 100 years"(Journal, vol. i. p. 259). Stated in a sentence, the point upon which the Non-Intrusion Committee and Dr Chalmers insisted, but upon which Lord Aberdeen would not yield, was that the Bill should recognise the unfettered judicial right of the Presbytery to decide whether or not the presentee should be inducted - in other words, a right of the Church Courts to give effect to the dissent of the people, irrespective of their expressed reasons.
4 OXFORD TERRACE,
LORD ABERDEEN TO DR CHALMERS.
ARGYLL HOUSE, March 23rd, 1839.
I have communicated the contents of your last letter, pointing out the difference of ordination in the English and Scotch Churches, to Lord Brougham, who has attended the hearing of the Auchterarder Cause in the House of Lords. The point had not escaped the counsel, and had been adverted to at the Bar. The power of the Civil Courts to compel a bishop to admit an ordained person to a living, or to show cause, was fully recognised. In the Scotch Church it is presumed that there is no such thing as the ministerium vagum, but that ordination and admission to some benefice form a part of the same ceremony. In the present case Mr Young was a licentiate, and therefore, strictly speaking, not a clerical person; but he might have been an ordained minister, removing from another parish, or from the chaplaincy of some regiment. Here there would be no ordination; but I should be glad to know whether the Church would not still consider such admission as an act exclusively ecclesiastical, or whether, in such a case, any analogous power to that possessed by the English Courts could be supposed to exist. The hearing of the cause was finished this day, and most ably argued it has been by Sir F. Pollock and Mr Pemberton on one side, and the Attorney-General and Mr Knight on the other. The Chancellor and Lord Brougham were the only law lords who attended the hearing, and certainly they both appear to be impressed with the great difficulty as well as the importance of the cause.
A decision will be pronounced before the meeting of the General Assembly - probably not later than the first of May.
LORD ABERDEEN TO DR CHALMERS.
ARGYLL HOUSE, June 12th, 1839.
It will give me great pleasure to receive the first proceedings of your Committee, which you kindly promise to send me; and I sincerely hope that they may be calculated to restore peace to the Church, and terminate the existing state of collision with the Civil power. As a sincere friend, and as a member of the Church of Scotland, I cannot look without apprehension to anything like an opposition to the law. This law has been declared by the supreme tribunal of the country, to which the Church itself had appealed, and whose decision must be considered as final. I should think little of contending with power or privilege, but it is a fearful alternative to resist the law of the land. There is no doubt, however, that the rights of conscience and the spiritual independence of the Church are sacred, and must be maintained; and this at once raises the question of " competent jurisdiction."
I take this to be the great practical difficulty of the case; and upon this I do not feel able to pronounce any decided opinion. Whether you are dealing with matters strictly and exclusively ecclesiastical, or whether you are encroaching upon the province of the Civil power, with which you profess not to interfere, is the real question at issue. The fact of the appeal to the House of Lords furnishes prima facie evidence against you. Neither must we entirely forget that the Papistical pretensions of the Presbyterian Church, in this respect, have been often stigmatised of old. At the same time, I readily admit that the present question is one of great difficulty, as well as of first-rate importance to the character and efficiency of the Church, and to the well-being of the people. I can only again express my sincere desire that, by your assistance, we may be extricated from this situation of embarrassment and peril. I perceive from your letter that you anticipate the necessity of some legislative enactment as the means of relieving us from our difficulties. This may be possible, but the course is liable to many objections; and I should very unwillingly see the subject discussed in either House of Parliament at this time, and in the present temper of the public mind. I hope your Church Extension tour in the North may prove successful, and that, amidst all your fatigue and anxiety of body and mind, your health may be preserved. I may mention that I have presented to the House of Lords, during this session, very many petitions praying for Church Extension, probably from not less than four hundred parishes; but you will be at no loss to understand why I dare not venture at this time to urge upon the Government, or upon the House, their strong claims to a favourable consideration.
DR CHALMERS TO LORD ABERDEEN.
EDINBURGH, 26th December 1839.
The Dean is doing immense disservice to the cause of his own political friends; and if his conception of an Established Church shall be acted on in parliament, there are hundreds of our best clergymen willing to forego all the benefits of our connection with the State, rather than submit to the effects of such a connection as he is contending for. I think it were not difficult for a third party, not blinded by the zeal of controversy, to find out the materials upon which an adjustment of this question might yet be effected.
LORD ABERDEEN TO DR CHALMERS.
HADDO HOUSE, December 31st, 1839.
Before I received the copy, which you were so kind as to send me, of your answer to the Dean, I had read the work with the greatest pleasure, and I hope not without profit. Even when refusing my assent to your reasoning, I have never failed to be struck with the mild, conciliatory, and Christian spirit in which the answer is framed. Why is not this unhappy question always treated in such a manner? If there were a little more charity, we might be more sanguine respecting its satisfactory and amicable settlement. I will not, however, allow myself by any means to despair of this result. I am glad to hear that you have no intention - I mean, the dominant party in the Church - of urging the matter on the attention of Parliament, by the suggestion of any legislative measure. Indeed, I should be well pleased if it was possible to come to an adjustment by an Act of the Assembly, and without the intervention of Parliament at all.
I fear that the question will be little understood by men of any party, and that you will encounter a fierce hostility from the worldly men of all parties. If I [am] correctly informed, the Government will originate no measure with the view of relieving your present difficulties; and composed as they are, I should not ex pect that they would be at all disposed to do so. But if the Government remain quiescent, it becomes a very doubtful question how far it may be possible for an opposition to take the lead, in dealing with a subject of this description, with the slightest chance of bringing it to a successful issue.
My- opinion is, therefore, that we shall do well to wait, and to see what is the temper and disposition of the next General Assembly, before we attempt anything in Parliament. I will confess that I have always entertained the greatest reluctance to look at this matter with any reference to political objects, it is of more importance than any party interest, Whig or Tory, Radical or Conservative. It is the real welfare of the people, and the salutary influence of the ministers of religion, that we are to consider.
When I have heard from you, and from others, of the injury likely to be sustained by the Conservative Party, I cannot bring myself to dwell upon this view of the case. If the Conservative Party shall act as in their conscience they believe to be consistent with truth and justice, and best calculated to promote the cause of religion and virtue, with the eternal good of the people, I am not afraid of the consequences. When I have the pleasure of seeing you in Edinburgh, I shall be prepared to explain to you, without reserve, the nature of the conclusion to which I have come in considering this painful subject. I believe that I have satisfied my own mind; and I am sure that I would most scrupulously abstain from every thing which could have the appearance of humbling the Church. You will do me the justice to recollect that when we met in London, I entertained no strong prejudices against the Veto; and still less, in favour of Patronage. My views of the Veto are much modified; and I confess that I should prefer popular election to this attempted "law of the Church."For popular election, much may be said; but the Veto is a crotchet, which cannot practically work well.
If we are to abolish patronage, about which at present I give no opinion, it must be done by the Legislature, and not by a side-wind, under an Act of Assembly. I would give a great deal to be instrumental in healing these breaches, which are every day becoming wider, and from which the most calamitous results must be expected if the present spirit of hostility and rancour should continue. It does not appear to me impossible that such an adjustment should take place as would secure to the clergy their full power and influence, and to the people all their rights. At all events, if I take any part in these affairs, it will be in the spirit of good-will and peace; and most happy shall I be to listen, with all the respect which is due, to the sentiments which you are kind enough to say you will communicate to me when we meet in Edinburgh. -
DR CHALMERS TO LORD ABERDEEN.
EDINBURGH, January 2nd, 1840.
Your Lordship has both gratified and made me grateful by your letter, so full of kindness and encouragement. I should not have alluded to Conservatism at all in my last letter but for my own honest regret that a cause so indispensable to all the temporal objects of good government should be put to any hazard by the present unfortunate state into which the enemies of our Church are so fast hurrying it. It is certainly to be regretted that On the side of the ecclesiastics in this controversy there should not be all the meekness and moderation which so become our profession. But, on the other hand, I think that the public conduct of our Church in abandoning the operations of its own law will bear a most honourable comparison with the conduct of those mischievous and meddling and aggressive persecutors who, in the shape of various legal actions, are doing all they can to obstruct our attempts after a settlement, and to thicken to the uttermost our embarrassments and the difficulties of this transition period. It is their conduct, in fact, which presents us with a new question altogether, and one of a greatly more vital character than the Veto law, or any specific enactment in our ecclesiastical code. By their interdicts on our ecclesiastical procedure,the Court of Session greatly exceeded her constitutional powers, and inflicted an outrage on the fundamental principles of our Establishment. It is not for the confirmation of our Veto law, but to deliver us from the fangs of that Court, not in any question which regards the temporalities, but in things ecclesiastical, that I look on a protective Act from the Legislature to be necessary.
The Legislature did not give up the Court of Justiciary or the Court of Exchequer to the charge of the Court of Session. But is the Church to be given up to their charge? Let us hold direct on the Legislature; but let us not be handed over by them, any more than the Lords of Justiciary or the Court of Exchequer are, to their charge. Let the Legislature, when we become a nuisance, withdraw our endowments if they like, but let our Court not be exposed, as we now are for the first time since 1688, to the harassments of a Court whose province is altogether distinct from ours, which harassments we feel to be beyond all endurance, and which it is my belief the Church never will succumb to, insomuch that if the Legislature do not interpose before the next General Assembly, we may modify, we may repeal the Veto Law, but we shall, I hope, emit the strongest possible declaration of our injured feelings on the subject of what the Court of Session have done, and are still doing, for the subjugation of our Church; and to which, if we do surrender ourselves, we shall not stand our ground as an Establishment for three years.
I trust, therefore, that no such cup of humiliation is intended for us as that we shall ever be compelled to do their bidding, either in the case of Auchterarder or any other case of the settlement of presentees. I am very glad that a collection, already amounting to several thousand pounds, is fast getting up to meet the new species of persecution which they are practising upon us. But, not to insist more upon these things, let me only now say, that I feel a greatly enhanced desire for an interview with your Lordship since I received your much esteemed communication, and will conclude this letter with a proposal for an Act of Legislation which I have just submitted to Sir James Graham, and which, if adopted, would I believe satisfy us.
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